Brief Encounters: Jed Root

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 07 April, 2014, 4:04pm

Jed Root founded leading artist management agency Jed Root Inc, in 1989, to represent creative professionals such as photographers, make-up artists, stylists, filmmakers, illustrators and set designers. Today his clients include street-style pioneer Scott Schuman and make-up artist Laura Mercier, who are served by offices in New York, Paris and, most recently, Manila.

"When I was young my family moved to rural Alabama, which is where I went to high school. Afterwards I went to Louisiana State University, which is where I met Kevyn Aucoin, a relationship that would change my life. He wanted to be a make-up artist so we decided to make the move to New York together in the early 1980s.

I didn't really have any interest in fashion - I just fell into it. Kevyn needed an agent so I pretended to be his for a while, before trying a number of jobs, including styling. Eventually, I worked as a booker at a modelling agency for three years, but decided it was not for me. At that point Kevyn was no longer happy with his agent, and I wasn't crazy about the agency, so I established Jed Root Inc in 1989, with Kevyn as my first client.

There was no master plan for the business, everything happened organically as I took advantage of what opportunities arose at the time. After Kevyn, I secured my next clients, including manicurist Sheryl Bailey and assistant photographer to Irving Penn, Michael Thompson, who at the time only had three pictures in his portfolio. In a way, agencies like mine started the movement for artists to become celebrities in their own right.

There are no set criteria when it comes to choosing who to represent, but it's important that their work is commercial and saleable. I make sure that everyone in the agency has their own unique point of view and talent. Scott Schuman [of The Sartorialist], for example, did more than just pioneer street style - he created his own view of the world. [ Purple magazine editor] Olivier Zahm does the same thing - he works within a context, which makes him interesting.

We launched our first Asian outpost in Tokyo in 1998, at a time when Asia was looking for Western artists. Today it's different - Asia is looking more inward, especially with its own pop culture which is translating more into fashion. This is why we chose to set up in Manila, which will be our hub for Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, Thailand and Jakarta. We are also looking at Mexico City as a hub for all of Latin America.

But I have no plans to open in China. The mainland has a distinct aesthetic, which is very different from the West. Manila makes more sense for me because it's very Western but Asian at the same time. China is different - the culture, the way business is done, the aesthetic. When I am opening offices I try to find a synergy between what can be there and what I have elsewhere. It's about creating a two way discourse.

Finding talent in Asia is the same as in the United States. When we opened Manila we reached out to our networks and I had a few symposiums where I gave talks and met people. It's a little more difficult when the artist is not living in the same city, but it's not as hard as it used to be, thanks to Skype. I have a great team behind me, but my greatest talent is choosing the right people. You still need someone to make the connection, work on business deals and guide people on what their voice should be. I'd say our role is somewhere between an agent and manager.

I've been in the industry for 25 years and I can't imagine doing anything else. The biggest challenge today, though, are the budgets, which are much lower. The money used to flow back in the old days. When a photographer needed to shoot a swimwear campaign you would get a yacht, three support boats, a helicopter and chef for catering. That doesn't happen any more."

As told to Divia Harilela